Congress Saves Tuition Assistance for Everyone
UPDATE: The Coast Guard announced Friday that it will be restoring funding for Tuition Assistance. The continuing resolution passed by Congress on Thursday applies to all military services, including the Coast Guard. Earlier reports from many news outlets, including this blog, that the Coast Guard was left out of the order, were in error.
The decision of the DoD uniformed services to suspend the popular tuition assistance program (TA) that granted qualifying servicemembers up to $4,500 per year in tuition costs, sparked a lot of complaining from the ranks. The suspension was expect to save about $250-300 million in this fiscal year alone. The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard had all announced that their programs were suspended at the urging of the Secretary of Defense over the past two weeks. The Navy announced on March 20th that it planned to keep funding the benefit to active duty sailors through the end of the fiscal year, at least.
A petition to the White House to reinstate the benefit garnered over 116,319 “signatures,” as of this writing – which would have forced a formal response from the White House staff. A similar petition on Change.org generated over 42,000 signatures.
However, Congress just voted to order the Defense Department to reinstate the tuition assistance benefit. Not that they are providing any resourcing for it – they just directed the Pentagon to reinstate Tuition Assistance and cut the money somewhere else in the budget to pay for it.
That could take the form of cuts to other benefits, training accounts, military schools, maintenance, supply, and even operational and deployment budgets.
Moreover, the Coast Guard – which announced it was suspending its own Tuition Assistance program last week – was left out of the Congressional order. Congress only included the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
The restoration of the funds for TA is part of a continuing resolution passed by both houses of Congress on Thursday, 21 March, and is now headed to the President for signature. Two of the key players in preserving the tuition assistance benefit for servicemembers were Republican Senator James Inhofe of Nebraska and Democratic Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
While Inhofe was instrumental in getting the language inserting the TA benefit inserted into the bill, he actually voted against the continuing resolution, citing broader budgetary concerns. “One of the many concerns I had was that the CR failed to address critical budget shortfalls for the Department of Defense,” said Sen. Inhofe in a statement. “While certain patches were made to potentially mitigate some furloughs, it did not afford the full flexibility the Service Chiefs requested, leaving not only jobs at risk but also the readiness of our military. Although not adopted, Sen. Toomey’s amendment to reallocate $60 million in unnecessary defense funds for biofuels to the department’s operations and management budget would have also been a step in the right direction. I was also disappointed that amendments were ignored that would have held this Administration accountable for their misguided political game with how sequestration budget cuts are being implemented. It is time we end this crisis mode in Washington, and I hope that as we approach the budget debate we can look more responsibly at how to reduce wasteful, big-government spending while prioritizing and supporting our national security.”
Senator Hagan had written a letter to the new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, earlier this month, urging the restoration of the Tuition Assistance benefit. Hagan also voted for the Senate version of the bill.
Neither sponsor of the amendment explained why the Coast Guard wasn’t included in the language.
Assuming the President signs it, in addition to restoring the TA benefit, the bill would effectively head off a broad government shutdown, now scheduled to occur on March 27th.